November 10, 2010
Is New Calvinism Really New Fundamentalism?
Is the rise of Calvinism among the young helping or hurting evangelicalism and the church's mission?
Fundamentalism is characterized by:
A.) Insularity. There’s a mentality of insiders over against those who don’t believe.
B.) Distrust towards culture as a place where God is at work.
C.) An “us against them” mentality. Because of the previous two characteristics, fundamentalists typically reject open dialogue. Engagement with culture takes the shape of winning arguments and confrontation. As the insularity builds, there is less and less wiggle room to associate with other Christians who disagree. As a result, a certain form of arrogance tends to infect fundamentalism.
These are the marks of classic fundamentalism. For all the obvious reasons, these characteristics tend to set Christians over against our neighbors. Its dynamic works against a missionally engaged Christianity.
After looking at the video inserted below, I see some early signs that Neo- Calvinism (also called the Neo-Reformed movement) is on its way to becoming a fundamentalism even in its edgier forms. It’s a video with many inner contradictions at work, so its not clear. Nonetheless, I observed 4 things from the video. I put these observations in the form of questions because I’m really asking if what I’m seeing is accurate at this point. Your input is greatly appreciated.
First, the video...
1) Do they think Reformed Theology provides the best fortress? Is this insular thinking? Mohler says the resurgence in new-Calvinism has emerged from a raft of young people trying to swim against the tide of secularism. He says they are in desperate need of “a structure of thought that is more comprehensive than merely a deck of cards with all the right doctrines.” (The quote is from the October CT which is similar to what he says in the video.) They need resources. They need to be able to answer questions like “how did I get saved and all these others didn’t?”
These words reveal that Mohler sees “the structure of thought” as the means of being able to defend the coherence of one’s own beliefs. As opposed to engaging the world with a compelling Story, and inviting the world in, this “structure of thought” helps me defend why I am a Christian. There is nothing wrong with defending your faith. But contrary to 1 Pet 3:15 (the idea of defense/ “give an account” in response to questions from those in the world as witness) the motivation appears to be insular, defensive for the sake of one’s own self confidence.
2) Do they think Reformed Theology is the true Evangelicalism? Is there an “us against them” mentality in this video? Despite Mohler et. al. talking about eclecticsm, and joining across denominational lines, DeYoung says evangelicals were predominantly Calvinist/Reformed in their origins. Is he crazy? To me it is stunning, that he can say this because so much of evangelicalism was birthed in the holiness movements, pentecostal movements (of Wesleyan origin. Maybe they think Wesley was a Calvinist?). Has anyone over there ever read my teacher Don Dayton? To me, this suggests a little bit of “we’re the true evangelicals." To me this smacks of the “us against them” mentality typical of fundamentalism? As a holiness driven Anabaptist, am I being oversensitive?
3.) Do they think Reformed Theology is the only option? Is this the beginning sign of a fundamentalism's false hubris/arrogance? Mohler says in the face of secularism “What options are there? besides the depths of Reformation Calvinism”? This again stuns me. It smacks of insularity and the “us against them” mentality discussed above. What about the holiness movements which stress sanctification? What about neo-Anglicanism that has the liturgical resources to form people spiritually and bodily in the face of consumerism? What about the Anabapatist heritage which I think is peculiarly suited to engage the cultures of post-Christendom? I admit to being deeply indebted to all of these. I find here immense resources for overcoming the insularity of Reformed theology’s defensive posture and its heavy reliance on a Christendom foundation that no longer exists in many parts of our contexts (Southern Baptists excluded).
4.) Do they believe society is secular therefore it is all bad and must be fought? Is this a reflexive distrust against culture typical of fundamentalism? Mohler’s repeated characterization of the culture as “secularism” is curious especially since he seems to be so interested in cultural artifacts according to the October CT article. Yet again there seems to be an antagonism here against culture. This goes against the typical Kuyperian dutch brand of Calvinism which sees societal structures as inherently created good. (This is why I am more than curious to know what moves Tim Keller to align himself with these Neo-Reformed leaders. Insights anyone?)
I can agree with Mohler on some of his views of government, that we should not invest a lot of hope in it for redemptive purpose. Nonetheless, God is at work in culture. It needs to be discerned, not just written off. Mohler appears to see culture as monolithic so that we have to become “culture warriors.” Some may say Driscoll’s edginess, willingness to swear, wear spiked hair and tattoos is cultural engagement. I think not. Or perhaps the willingness to update worship music with the latest in grunge, indie or whatever is popular. Again I think not. It belies a naive view of cultural formation that lines up with the belief that truth is truth, and all we have to do is “confess” it in words and the rest will take care of itself. To me, these are symptoms of a beginning fundamentalist posture towards culture: We have the answers, we distrust everything about everything that is not us.
Am I wrong? Yes? no?